Dozens of kids in colorful sweatpants and T-shirts lined up last Saturday morning in front of Cooper Elementary School. They chatted and bounced as they waited to compete in a one-mile race.
“You’re going to go out this way, down this street,” organizer Heather Moser told the kids, pointing the directions.
It was 9 a.m. and the start of the third annual Run for the Rockets, a fundraiser for the school. The run had three events: a one-mile run for kids 12 and younger, a five-kilometer race for all ages and a “Kids Dash” for children 6 and younger.
At the count of three, two, one and, finally, “Go!” the kids took off in a flurry of feet and grins. A mile later and out of breath, they began to cross the finish line in front of the school.
Sprinting ahead of his peers, 10-year-old Collin Kieffer won the one-mile race. Moments later, as he sat and panted, his dad, Donny Kieffer, came by and gave him a high five. Father was proud of son.
“His time was exactly six minutes,” Donny Kieffer said. “He was so motivated after last year because he came in second. So this year he wanted to do it, and I’m glad he did. He’s been practicing, running around our block.”
Two minutes later, Collin’s younger brother, Braddley Kieffer, crossed the finish line, and their dad picked him up for a bear hug.
The 5K began at 9:30, and dozens of adults and children took part.
Eight-year-old Caitlyn Groff planned to run with her mom, Shannon Groff.
In kindergarten, Caitlyn ran the 5k by accident, Shannon said. “I looked up and she was gone,” Shannon said. “She found the principal and just walked the rest of the way back.”
This time they planned to do both the one mile and 5K together.
“We’re glad to be here, and we’re excited to support Cooper. It’s a good community effort,” Shannon said, adding, “We’re glad the sun came out for it.”
Some ran to support the school, others for the love of running. Mark Benge was running for both. He said he had friends whose kids attend the school, and he also competes in half-marathons. The run, he said, would help him get ready.
Caitlin Mason, 14, said the race would help her compete at school, where she runs the two-mile and the 4x800 relay. “I’m just practicing to get in shape for track,” she said. “I run long distance.”
The 5K course wound 3.1 miles from North Mial Street to Randolph Drive to Camel Street to North Cooper Street to East Hinton Street to North Lombard Street to East Front Street and back to North Cooper.
Volunteers stood on the street corners where orange cones blocked traffic. They cheered on the runners and helped guide them on the race.
Two Clayton police officers, Brian Pounds and Ron Freeman, stood on guard at the turnoffs on East Front Street.
Pounds said the street closures might bother some people, but they were essential. “The kids running and the safety of it – if somebody’s not paying attention, they could run over one of the children,” he said.
Last year, about 136 people took part in the races. This year, the number was down to about 105, Moser said. “We were kind of bummed,” she said.
One reason for the drop in number was that high school students were taking the SAT that day. “We had very few high school kids this year because of the SATs, but you can’t plan for everything,” Moser said.
She added that weather was a factor. Bad weather had pushed out sports practices and games, and some parents just weren’t able to sign their kids up for one more thing.
The people who did run loved the course. One 5K runner told Moser, “That is one of the hardest courses I’ve ever done.” As someone who runs half-marathons, he meant it as a compliment.
The hills included in the race made it especially challenging.
“The people who really run were like, ‘That is awesome,’” Moser said. “We will not vary that route.”
Sponsors and entrance fees from the runners helped offset the cost of the race, which required T-shirts, timers and more. Sheetz, the 24-hour gas station and convenience store chain, gave the heftiest donation – $1,000.
All profits will go to the Parent Teacher Association, which will put the money toward buying an LED message sign for the school. The old one, Moser said, is manual and “just really old.”
“It’s really hard to get the information up there, and the letters get stolen,” she added.
The run brought in $6,600 for the school.